Tamzen Hayes brings her sensitive and vulnerable show, Never Said Motel, to the 2023 Bondi Festival, on from 30 June to 16 July. Part solo performance and part installation piece, Never Said Motel, first premiered at Melbourne Writers Festival in 2019, then went on tour around country Victoria with festival Ok Motels and most recently completed a successful run at Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Talking about the genesis of the show, Hayes considers herself very lucky to have been asked by Melbourne Writers Festival to pitch an idea for a show, back in 2019. “The theme that year for the festival was When We Talk About Love and that really inspired me to ruminate on what love does to us as humans and if I had ever really been in love,” she says. “I know I thought I had been.”
Ultimately, she kept returning to the idea of people from her past that maybe she could have loved, or she shouldn’t have even tried to love. “Would everything have been different if I was brave enough to use my voice? what would it have sounded like? Would it have even mattered. Obviously, rather than contact those people personally and do it face-to-face – because I’m not totally bananas – I decided to just tell an audience instead. “Just” haha…agh.”
Moving through a collection of memories, Never Said Motel invites audiences to hold space for real-life figures from Hayes’s past as she talks her way through intimate conversations that have – until this point – only happened in her mind.
“Universally I feel we all understand what it’s like to have a tangle of unsaid words, like a lump in your throat that you don’t know how to release,” she says. ” I am one of those people that walk away from most conversations thinking ‘Oh, I should have said this’ or, ‘Imagine if I was brave enough to have said that.'”
Finally Hayes got to a point in her life where she was reflecting on how many times she felt she didn’t have a voice, – or that she wasn’t allowed to speak up or ask for what she wanted. “I know this idea of people pleasing, to be ‘seen and not heard’, is a very common experience for so many humans trying to find the right words.”
Hayes admits that in a way, Never Said Motel is a gift to the younger her – “trying to retroactively give myself permission to speak (and to say the exact perfect thing!).” Hayes also hopes that by using herself as the guinea pig with the concept, that the audience can take something useful from it too. “After all, whenever I explain the show to people, I watch them instantly start to remember their own ‘never saids’. I’d love them to reflect in the same way. These words are theirs as well as mine.”
Hayes explains that the writing process for the original production was a few months, but the show has morphed and changed a little bit for each iteration. Overall, she has been working on the project for 4 years. “My first director and I used to joke the show was magic, or it had some sort of mystical powers because every time I worked on it someone from the show – the real people who I have written the show about – would crop up in my life somehow in a different way. I would bump into them in the street even though I hadn’t seen them in years, one moved back to Australia from America after 8 years, one messaged out of the blue, an old item of clothing of another’s just appeared out of nowhere. Most of these people are no longer in my life in any significant way but somehow, they reappear when I start working on NSM.”
Hayes opines that no one else can give you closure on a situation. “Even though I have written out all the stories, and even though I get to say it all out loud, the sobering fact is, I will never have the courage to say these things to the real people. And even if I did, I can’t expect whatever the response is to give me what I need. They will never give me closure, there will always be more questions, more things to understand. We can only get closure from ourselves. There’s something very powerful in that.”
The show has morphed over time with the regional Victorian OK Motels festival performances shortened to a 20 minute piece with an audience of only about 10 – with limited numbers, the show was done inside an actual motel room. Then for Melbourne Fringe festival, during one of the lockdowns, it was turned into a letter-writing exercise they called ‘Room Service” wherein audience members were mailed out a writing kit and some writing prompts – Hayes has lovingly and excitedly been receiving these letters back for the last couple of years. ” I’m hoping to use them to progress the work into a new iteration in future- watch this space….”
Each version of the show has involved some kind of space for the audience to write their own ‘words they wish they’d said’. “We have used typewriters, emails, letters, note cards and finally last fringe we perfected it and had a beautiful writing booth created. Inside the booth (which looks like a cute little motel room) there is stationary and a mail slot,” she says. ” Hayes encourages anyone to take a breath, take a moment and really start to release those words they have been holding onto. “Over the years we have collected so many stories from the embarrassing secrets, from quiet I Love Yous to frustrated scrawls of pain. Our next project is to turn these into the script for the next version of Never Said Motel. I am really excited about writing for other performers and being able to have a diverse cast to give voice to these stories which have come from all over Victoria – and very soon from Sydney as well!”
Honest and cathartic, Never Said Motel is a love letter to the pain and heartbreak that shapes us and the human need for closure that we may never get.
Says Hayes, “We’re all stumbling our way through romantic relationships and human connections, and sometimes the right words are just out of reach. Come and let my missteps and chaos and lessons be an arrow towards your own healing – after all, isn’t that what art is for?”
June 30 – July 2